Public Defender Services (for individuals)
What is this service?
Public defenders are attorneys provided by County government to represent people who are charged with a crime but can't afford legal representation. Juveniles and individuals with conservatorship cases may also receive these services. The County contracts with private attorneys to provide Public Defender services.
The County’s primary Public Defender firm is San Luis Obispo Defenders.
Who can use this service?
Any individuals charged with a crime in state court who are unable to afford a private attorney can use this service.
Is there a charge for this service?
Under California law, users of this service who have the ability to pay some or all of the cost of their legal defense may be responsible for a portion or all of the cost for services they receive. How much an individual may be charged is based on assessed ability to pay, the number of court appearances, and whether the case is filed as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Charges for Public Defender services are ordered by the Court and are paid to the Revenue Recovery Unit in the Probation Department. The Revenue Recovery Collection Unit is located on the 3rd floor of the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse.
When and where is this service offered?
Public Defenders are Court appointed Attorneys. Eligibility for representation by a Public Defender is determined by the Court. The Court’s determination is based on an individual’s financial means and the complexity of the case.
A request can be made at the first Court hearing that the Judge appoint an attorney for the case. If an individual has hired a private attorney and can no longer afford it, or if an individual told the Judge at the first hearing that counsel would be obtained, but is now financially unable to do so, a request may be made that the Judge appoint an attorney for the case.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to pay for the services of a Public Defender?
Fees regarding the services of a public defender are ordered by the court and are payable through the Revenue Recovery Unit, which is part of the County Probation Department. You can meet with the Revenue Recovery Collection Unit, which is located on the third floor of the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse. The determination of how much you will be charged is based upon your proven financial situation, the number of court appearances, and whether the case is filed as a misdemeanor or a felony. Download the Financial Declaration Form.
What is a public defender?
A public defender is a court-appointed attorney who provides legal defense of criminal defendants who otherwise cannot afford an attorney.
How do I get a Public Defender Appointed to my case?
Public defenders are court-appointed attorneys. If you would like to use the services of a public defender you must appear for your first court hearing and ask the judge to appoint an attorney for you. The attorneys are in the courtroom. You will have an opportunity to speak with your court-assigned attorney before any action is taken on your case. If you hired a private attorney and can no longer afford those fees, or at your first hearing, you told the judge that counsel would be obtained but are financially unable to hire one, you will need to ask the judge to appoint an attorney to represent you at your next hearing.
I have a Public Defender Attorney appointed to my case. How do I contact or schedule a meeting with my assigned attorney?
Meetings with those attorneys are made by appointment only. Those appointments will need to be made directly with your attorney. The legal secretaries at the Public Defender’s Office do not maintain the calendars and schedules for the attorneys.